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Epistemology (Philosophy of Knowledge) - How Can We Know Something? How can You Justify A Belief in Something? What Is Truth?



The study of
knowledge and justified belief and how it is acquired, either before sensory experience (a priori) or only after sensory experience (a posteriori) - How we perceive and process information and differentiate between truth and falsehood.

  1. How can we “know” something?

    1. empiricism – knowledge is acquired via sensory perception via direct observation

    2. rationalism – knowledge can be acquired by both intuition and deductive reasoning. Reality has a “rational” structure and it can be “known” by logical principles.

    3. representationalism – knowledge is just our own perception of it according to our experience as a “veil of perception” prevents first-hand knowledge of the actual existing world.

    4. constructivism – Knowledge is my view constructed of my own perception & social experience apart from any “objective” understanding

    5. Biblical (innatism+rationalism) – I am born with some knowledge, acquire some by social experience, deductive reason, and revelation from the Creator of the Universe.

    6. Transcendentalism – I can know divine truth by way of its transcending the natural world and all physical existence and reaching my mind. I don’t need organized religion or intellectualism.

    7. Psychology – Dualism vs Monism

    1. Dualism – Two realities – body (material) and mind (soul, spirit, immaterial)

    2. Monism – One reality – body only (naturalism) this is why many secular psychologists prescribe chemicals to treat an “emotional” or “soul” problem which only results in MORE emotional soul problems and chemical dependence. (Reductionist approach – everything of the mind can be reduced to the basic elements of matter and motion

  2. How Can You Justify A Belief In Something?

    1. Constructivism: Truth exists & I can justify a belief by my perceptions & social experiences

    2. Empiricism: Only by sensory experience and perception. “Seeing is believing!”

    3. Judicial evidence: eye witnesses, evidence (archaeology), testimony etc

    4. Solipsism: We cant justify a belief as everything outside of ourselves is illusory

    5. Rationalism: We can justify a belief by way of deductive reasoning and logic

    6. Post Modernism: There is no “truth” per se so beliefs can only justified to ourselves and by ourselves as it is our own internal experiences and perceptions that lead to belief

  3. What is Knowledge?

    1. A Priori – non empirical – knowledge can be acquired by reason “prior” to experience

    2. A Posteriori – empirical – knowledge is only possible (posterior) as a part of certain sensory experience in addition to reason. i.e. geographical location.

    3. Belief - We can’t say, “I know that a thing is true – but I don’t believe it” although it may be a phraseology in use within the Western vernacular it is a nonsensical statement. Our knowledge of truth and our belief are inextricably tied to one another.

    4. Justification – reasonable belief as opposed to irrational belief based on random chance

  4. What is Truth?

    1. “What is truth?” – this was the question asked of Jesus by Pontius Pilate

    2. “To say of something which is that it is not, or to say of something which is not that it is, is false. However, to say of something which is that it is, or of something which is not that it is not, is true." – Aristotle

    3. Relative – constructive – after sensory perception and experience (a posteriori); This is a truth as it exists within a person to that person but not necessarily in the external world as it truly is. e.g. “It is cold in here” or “That clown is scary!”

    4. Absolute – prior to sensory perception and experience (a priori) or a priori + a posteriori - this is a truth as it exists within the external world around us. e.g. “What goes up must come down due to the law of gravity” or “Cats give birth to cats”

  1. Common Epistemological World Views

    1. Skepticism:

      1. A person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.

      2. Philosophy an ancient or modern philosopher who denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in some sphere.

      3. The doctrine that holds that true knowledge is not possible

    2. Empiricism - all knowledge is derived from experience and not from reason

    3. Constructivism – “Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given” – Gaston Bachelard A fairly recent view of epistemology which contends that knowledge is “constructed” by way of human perception and social experience along with external convention. It is this view that is embraced when positing “subjective” truth in contrast to “objective” truth. Constructivism holds that there is no one single superior methodology in that there may be equally efficient methodologies held by someone with a different societal or experiential “construct”. In some veins of constructivist thought, change can only occur in a person’s life if they engage in experiences outside their world view. In a sociological sense the constructivist might claim that those things which appear “obvious” and “natural” to a person are nothing more than manifestations, invention, and influences of that individual’s culture.

    4. Materialism - Physical matter is the only reality and that psychological states such as emotions, reason, thought, and desire will eventually be explained as physical functions

    5. Foundationalism – An epistemic view that a belief can be justified if based on a basic or foundational belief or set of beliefs which needs no justification as they are a foundational belief which is of a different sort of belief than a non-foundational one. Only non-foundational beliefs require being justified even if they are a “chain of beliefs” so long as they are supported by a foundational belief. Those that adhere to and propagate this epistemology claim that some basic propositions must exist (i.e. Reformed Theology’s argument for the existence of God). Opponents claim that it falls into “Agrippa’s Trilemma” of either becoming an infinite regress, circular reasoning, or a dogmatic stopping point which are all logical fallacies.

    6. Postmodernism / Relativism - A belief system that stretches across epistemology, ethics/morality, and religion which holds to the idea that absolutes do not exist in the realms of knowledge, morality, & truth but rather exist only in direct relation to the culture, history, and society in which they are encountered. Critics point out that the flaw of this belief system is that it requires “absolute” knowledge and truth to claim there is “no absolute” truth or knowledge.

    7. Verificationism – “The meaning of a proposition is its method of verification” – Holds that all propositions are cognitively meaningful either by definitional analysis or verifiable by the senses. If a thing appears to be untrue/false by definition (falsifiable) and is itself not verifiable by sensory experience it is false. This approach to ‘meaning’ has been used in an effort to discount philosophy of religion and metaphysics. Both Metaphysicians and theologians have pointed out that the problem with this epistemology is that verificationism renders itself false by its own criterion. To which proponents of this position allowed for a “weak sense” of verifiability in which a proposition can be rendered verifiable if sensory experience could cause that proposition to be “probable”. This weakening of a flawed position then opened the door for both metaphysics and religion to be verifiable.

    8. Objectivism - Moral truths or external objects exist independently of the individual mind or perception and that which can’t be “demonstrated” apart from one’s perception of it, cannot be classified as “provably real”. The primary founder of this epistemology was Ayn Rand who was influenced greatly by Aristotle.

    9. Solipsism - A somewhat obscure and simple system of belief that by its very simplicity affects nearly every category of one’s world view that adheres to it. Solipsism is simply the belief that nothing can be known outside of one’s self. In fact nothing can be known to even exist outside of one’s self. Because of its odd simplicity I have placed it in a number of categories. In this case, with regards to religion, it is similar to the hard agnostic view that knowledge of God cannot be known, obviously because he would exist outside of one’s self.

    10. Nihilism - The second definition of nihilism in this case is a sub-category of epistemology in the sense that it asserts that nothing in the world has a real existence. Christian Science holds a nihilistic view with regards to sin, sickness, and pain. They assert that these things do not exist but are a figment of the imagination. It is for this reason that traditional medical aid (doctors) are rejected. c.f. Church of Scientology

    11. Positivism - knowledge can be acquired only through direct observation and experimentation rather than through metaphysics and theology

    12. Existentialism

    13. Probabilism

    14. Scientism

    15. Fallibilism

    16. Rationalism

    17. Externalism

    18. Internalism

    19. Reliablism

Now that you’ve examined Epistemology, have a look at the other elements that comprise your world view:

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